Why I am not a liberal:

‘Love Me, I’m a Liberal’…by Phil Ochs
I cried when they shot Medgar Evers
Tears ran down my spine
I cried when they shot Mr. Kennedy
As though I’d lost a father of mine
But Malcolm X got what was coming
He got what he asked for this time
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
I go to civil rights rallies
And I put down the old D.A.R.
I love Harry and Sidney and Sammy
I hope every colored boy becomes a star
But don’t talk about revolution
That’s going a little bit too far
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
I cheered when Humphrey was chosen
My faith in the system restored
I’m glad the commies were thrown out
of the A.F.L. C.I.O. board
I love Puerto Ricans and Negros
as long as they don’t move next door
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
The people of old Mississippi
Should all hang their heads in shame
I can’t understand how their minds work
What’s the matter don’t they watch Les Crain?
But if you ask me to bus my children
I hope the cops take down your name
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
I read New Republic and Nation
I’ve learned to take every view
You know, I’ve memorized Lerner and Golden
I feel like I’m almost a Jew
But when it comes to times like Korea
There’s no one more red, white and blue
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
I vote for the democratic party
They want the U.N. to be strong
I go to all the Pete Seeger concerts
He sure gets me singing those songs
I’ll send all the money you ask for
But don’t ask me to come on along
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal
Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal.

Three reasons why the child benefits fiasco is a Tory master-stroke

(My new piece in Liberal Conspiracy)

The Tories right now are laughing all the way to the ballot box. Whether they intended it as such or not, this cut in child benefit for the richer is proving a political masterstroke.

That sounds an extraordinary thing to say, given the sustained attacks they are suffering over it, and the apologies that they are being forced to make.

But consider the following three points:

1) As they deal with these attacks from the Mail et al, and are forced over and over again to respond to criticisms from broadcast journalists, what do the top Tory brass say? Over and over, they say: ‘Look; with this deficit we have to make tough choices; and it is only fair that the richest 15% give up this benefit in order that there is more money to go around.”

It enables Tories to identifying themselves with fairness and remove the impression that they are all about helping the rich. If they have to suffer a few days’ media discomfort in order to rebrand themselves in this way, it is a price well worth them paying.

Contrary to Sunny’s argument here, this attack on child benefit for the rich may be the way that the Conservatives finally escape the label ‘the nasty party’.

2) Meanwhile, the frenzy that the Mail et al are lathering themselves into works tacitly to the Tories advantage too: because the Mail are going on and on about protecting ‘Middle England’, while quietly ignoring the fact that someone earning £45k a year (the very least that someone now about to lose child benefit will earn) is earning twice the median income.

Twice the median: that is hardly the middle. So, the media furore is quietly stoking a sense of the country as richer than it really is, and of the rich as just part of the ‘middle class’: perfect for Tory ideas of how to reposition Britain’s sense of who it is, and of who matters.

3) Most crucially, all the attention on those poor parents earning anywhere between £45k and £Infinity is taking attention away from what really matters about this: the negative impact it is going to have on the welfare state because of a universal benefit being taken away from the rich. The poorest welfare states are in fact those which are designed only for the poor.

Thus the Tories get the best of both worlds: they get to look tough but fair, while actually doing something that profoundly undermines fairness and the entire Beveridge / Attlee agenda. Truly a masterstroke.

Lefties/greenies etc need to stop gloating on about how the Tories are shooting themselves in the foot and about those poor stay-at-home Mums, and start talking simply about defending the principle of welfare state universalism.

Otherwise, this cut will be the thin end of a very large wedge, and before we know it we will be looking at taking away NHS provision from the richest, on the grounds that they can afford private healthcare… I hope it is at least obvious to readers why THAT would be bad for us all. But it is nothing more than an extension of the logic of Osborne’s clever move here on child benefit.

Obama’s failure on climate may be a good thing

I just read an interesting piece in the NEW YORKER about Obama’s failure to secure climate-legislation.

But it fails to consider the terrifying possibility that it may be a GOOD thing that the legislation in question, ‘Kerry-Lieberman’, failed, just as it was a good thing, given the deals that were on offer, that Copenhagen failed ( see

http://liberalconspiracy.org/2009/12/07/copenhagen-does-not-go-far-enough/ )

One key to why can be found in the New Yorker article, if one reads carefully. For instance, here:


Obama, in a February, 2009, address to Congress, said, “To truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution.”

In March of 2009, a senior White House official outlined a strategy for a “grand bargain,” in which Democrats would capitulate to Republicans on some long-cherished environmental beliefs in exchange for a cap on carbon emissions. “You need to have something like T. Boone Pickens and Al Gore holding hands,” the White House official told me. In exchange for setting a cap on emissions, Democrats would agree to an increase in the production of natural gas (the only thing that Pickens, the Texas oil-and-gas billionaire, cared about), nuclear power, and offshore oil.

 The deal was that power-production including fossil fuels would be allowed to keep going up, in return for a market-based carbon- trading system with massive loopholes, offsets, etc, and with the commodification of the world’s remaining intact forest ecosystems – i.e. the very kind of system that is already (under Kyoto, the ETS, etc) leading us even faster to ecological cataclysm than would otherwise be the case (see the arguments of Larry Lohman, Biofuelwatch, Caroline Lucas and others for why).

 So I shed no tears over Obama’s failure to give us climate legislation. Until there is legislation on offer that would be better than nothing, it truly isn’t worth caring about.


 p.s. It is worth noting also that the EDF, the Nature Conservancy, WWF etc. have essentially sold out to large corporations, which is why they are pushing for a carbon-trading deal with mega-offsets, etc.

Why _not_ remove child-benefit from the rich?

Here’s why:
The problem with taking away child benefit from the rich is that the more you remove universal benefits, the less stake the rich have in the welfare state. Some people already say to me on the doorstep: ‘Why should I pay all these taxes? I don’t benefit from the tax-take!’ This problem will only worsen, if you start in effect means-testing even more benefits (Because that is what removing these benefits from the rich actually amounts to – a ‘kinder, gentler’ means-testing.).
So: this ConDem move will delegitimise the welfare state.
Actually, when you put it like this, it isn’t so hard to figure out why the Tories are happy to do this… Because many of them WANT to delegitimise the welfare state! So this move, that seems so ‘reasonable’ and sensible – the Radio 4 reporters are all saying things like ‘Yes, surely rich people don’t NEED winter fuel allowance / child benefit, etc.’, is actually a very clever political device for the long-term restructuring of the political consensus in this country in a rightward direction.
There is no way around this: it is an inevitable dilemma of a welfare state constructed around a complicated benefits system. There is no way out of this dilemma: except radical policies to change the status quo in an egalitarian direction. We need a genuinely progressive tax system (i.e. tax the trich more, rather than taking benefits away from them), a citizens’ income (slicing through the baroque welfare system and replacing most of it with one benefit that goes to everyone), and a raft of other measures that will take us in the direction that Wilkinson and Pickett are talking about. Unless we attain greater equality, the rich will always be looking for ways to opt out of the benefits system, and to delegitimise it. That is what this latest episode is a symptom of. However ‘reasonable’ it sounds to reallocate child benefit away from the rich to the poor, it is actually a move that will have the effect of undermining the very long-term acceptability of the welfare state.

1010 ad: What went wrong?

To put it bluntly: The 10.10 vid is just kinda dumb: If it were about the bloody deaths that will come from unchecked climate chaos, that would be OK (There is nothing intrinsically wrong with violent ads). But it isn’t! It distracts us from the real issue.

The underlying message of the 10.10 debacle, I think, is: If you want to get folk thinking about how we need a concerted campaign to stop climate change from destroying our lives and killing people, then you shouldn’t have designed a ‘lite’ and voluntaristic campaign in the first place… We will not stop climate chaos without concerted political action and serious awareness of how manmade climate change is killing. 10.10 contributes to neither of these goals.

In other words: I think that the underlying problem is not one ad rather than another. It’s that 10.10 is a wrongly-conceived campaign in the first place.

It enters a ‘liberal’ space where there is no room for genuine caring about the future, in which we have to be prepared to take strong co-ordinated action.

10.10’s heart may be in the right place. And great, if it gets some people thinking the right thing and doing the right thing. But we need real panaceas at this point, not mere substitutes for the kind of action that is actually required.